I've worked in various parts of the UK in my time with the RSPB, and got to know lots of people this way. It is always a pleasure to meet up with them, and show them around Fen Drayton Lakes.
Yesterday, several members of the RSPB York Local Group called in, on their way to a long weekend in Suffolk. I first met some of these volunteers back in 1999, and have worked with them on a number of occasions since then. So, as well as just being nice to see them, it was also good to be able to show them around, a small thanks for their help for me in the past.
Naturally, they’re keen to see as many different species as possible over the weekend, but they also want good views. Fen Drayton Lakes got them off to a flying start.
Before leaving the car park, we’d seen marsh harriers and a hobby. There were several different warblers in the hedge by the lane, and although it was a bit cool and blowy as we walked alongside the river, we still managed to find a grasshopper warbler.
Out over Ferry Lagoon, some black terns were flying with common terns, while a dunlin and ringed plover were sheltering on a sand bar. Later, a Cetti’s warbler tried to deafen us as we concentrated on the differences between reed and sedge warbler songs. Soon afterwards, we heard a lesser whitethroat – like hobbies, these birds are uncommon as far north as York.
We were onto our second route before we found any robins. These were quickly followed by a song thrush then a nightingale. These birds don’t breed as far north as York, and this was a new bird for one of the group. Further on, we saw lapwings on an island, but couldn’t see the newly hatched chicks.
By the time the group set off for the Suffolk coast, they had at least 63 bird species on their list. A good afternoon’s birding, but they ought to be well over a hundred by the time they get home on Sunday.
Well, after fabulous weather for the previous bank holiday weekends, this one has been much more typical. Cold winds gave way to rain today, but we had one of those moments when you really need eyes in the back of your head.
A turtle dove was heard singing close to the information point at the car park. We only had to walk a few metres to get a clear sight-line, and the telescope views were stunning. You could even see the throat feathers moving as it purred.
One of our visitors turned away from the telescope at just the right moment, and spotted a bittern flying up from the reedbed behind us. The bittern gained height, and flew over the tree tops to the next lake - I wonder how many people saw it flying over the track between the lakes.
We turned our attention back to the turtle dove, but after just a few seconds, it flew off and out of sight. Views of either species are so precious, we did need eyes in the backs of our heads.
Over the weekend, people have heard our singing nightingale and ten breeding warbler species, watched great crested grebe chicks, and admired a one-year old Mediterranean gull, but perhaps the most memorable feature for many was the spectacle of hundreds of common swifts feeding at tree-top height, or lower, across the entire site.
Despite the strong winds, a wide range of birds were at Fen Drayton Lakes today, with a grand total of 77 species recorded. Some highlights on the "Lazy Sunday" guided walk included hearing the different calls of a male and a female cuckoo, as well as a singing grasshopper warbler. We also saw a bar-tailed godwit (what was that doing here?) and had two kingfisher sightings. The big question was, did we see two different birds, or did we see the same kingfisher twice? However, I think the most impressive sight was the scores, even hundreds, of common swifts zooming around the lakes, particularly along and over the high hedges.
The next event we focus on will be very different.
There is an area to the north of Willingham that is labelled Weathersome Common on the Ordnance Survey map. It is currently arable farmland, but if you had been there around three thousand years ago, you’d probably have wet feet.
This is the site if Willingham Mere, long since drained, and perhaps soon to reveal some secrets.
Experts from Cambridge Archaeological Unit are soon to begin excavating an area at the edge of the former mere, with the help of a team of enthusiastic local people. Some are members of the Fen Edge Archaeology Group, and many will be taking part in their first-ever archaeological dig.
Previous excavations in the area between Needingworth and Haddenham have produced bones of animals that can still be found in the area, such as herons, ducks and swans, but they’ve also revealed animals that are locally extinct. Can you imagine how exciting it would be if Willingham Mere reveals more skeletal remains of beavers, white-tailed eagles or Dalmatian pelicans?
There are still a few places available for people to join the team, if they can commit to a couple of days between 31 May and 10 June. Phone 01954 233260 if you would like to take part.
If you cannot join the archaeological work, you can visit the site, as short tours will run at 11am and 2pm daily, from 1st to 10th June.
There have been two very different events at Fen Drayton Lakes in the past week, both with very strong links to Fen Drayton village.
Firstly, there was the 10Km and Fun Run, both starting and ending at the primary school, and using different routes around the lakes. The 10Km run was being staged for the first time since 1989, and the winner that year was the starter this year’s event. Some of the runners heard cuckoos at various points around the course, so it was nice to know they were noticing their surroundings, rather than concentrating on setting a fast pace.
The events were well organised by the PTA. As it was the first event for 22 years, I’m sure there were a few headaches on the way, but the event was a big success, and already people are looking forward to the 2012 event.
The runs raised money for two charities – EACH and RSPB, so I want to say how grateful we are for the generosity of the organising team and to everyone who took part.
I manned a stand in the school hall, but I intend to run in the 10Km event next year. The training has already begun...
The second event, yesterday, was a willow-weaving workshop, held at the Lakes for villagers who will be opening up their gardens to visitors on 11th and 12th June, as part of the Fen Drayton Open Gardens Weekend. The participants made obelisks today, and they’re hoping that over the next month their chosen plants will have grown up, through and around their obelisks.
The willow was harvested at Fen Drayton Lakes last winter by one of our great volunteers. He then put in hours more work to prepare the willow, and he led the workshop today. Thank you, Alan.
One of the participants doesn’t live in the village, but she does work there – and her obelisk was her birthday present for today (happy birthday, Anne). I’m sure she’ll be proud of it. I’d be happy to have any of the obelisks in my garden. The big question for me would be whether to grow runner beans or clematis up it.